creamy baked mac cheese

This baked mac and cheese is a family favorite recipe, loved by both children and adults. It uses a combination of cheeses, layered in the dish as well as melted into a rich and creamy cheese sauce, for the ultimate in cheesy deliciousness! Perfect for a comforting dinner or as a holiday side dish!

BAKED MAC AND CHEESE

Baked mac and cheese. It’s nearly the universal comfort food, and there are SO many variations! In fact, I almost didn’t post this recipe, as there are SOOOO many mac and cheese recipes available, and most people already have their favorite way of making it.

COOKING TIPS FOR BAKED MAC AND CHEESE:

Boiling the pasta – cook the pasta less than you normally would. I like to boil my elbow pasta for between 4 and 5 minutes. The pasta will continue to cook in the oven, and you don’t want it to get mushy.
Use room temp liquids – if you can… cold liquids generally take longer to thicken than warmer ones. I usually set my milk and half and half out while the water for the pasta is coming up to a boil.
The cheeses – use your favorites! Our personal favorites are the cheddar and gruyere used in this recipe, but you can be very creative with the cheese selection here. Mozzarella, gouda, smoked gouda, swiss, Monterey jack, Colby jack, Colby. There are plenty of reader comments down below the recipe that talks about the cheeses they used!
Shred your own – I know it’s a pain, and it’s SO tempting to use the pre-shredded cheese in the bags. But those bags of cheese contain a starchy substance that keeps the cheese from clumping… which also prohibits it from melting as well as it should.

VARIATIONS OF MAC AND CHEESE
Bacon – if you love bacon, feel free to add some crispy, crumbled bacon to the topping, or even inside the mac and cheese as well!
Stovetop – if you’d prefer not to bake this mac and cheese, you don’t have to! Make sure you boil your pasta until al dente (check the packaging for correct times), and you’ll only need about 3 – 3 1/2 cups of cheese total. No need to layer the pasta and cheese, just add all the cheese to the sauce, then combine it with the pasta.
Different Toppings – I’m a huge fan of the cheese layer on top since it gets nice and crispy, but we also love tossing 1 cup of panko with 2 Tbsp of melted butter and using that as a topping. 1 cup of crushed Ritz crackers with 2 Tbsp of butter work amazingly well too!
Different Baking Times – the recipe calls for a lower baking temperature and time, but most of the time I find myself adjusting that based on my family’s tastes. I like to bake this mac and cheese at 350 F degrees for 30 minutes, then broil for 2-3 minutes to get that glorious cheesy “crust”.

MAKING MAC AND CHEESE AHEAD OF TIME
Make as directed (but do not bake), transfer to a baking dish, and cool completely. Cover tightly with foil and refrigerate 1-2 days ahead.
Before baking, let the dish sit on the counter for 30 minutes.
Bake at recipe temperature for 25-35 minutes, until hot and bubbly. As a caveat, this recipe, as with most mac and cheese recipes, loses some of its creaminess when made ahead. This dish has been tested when made right away, which yields the best results.

I would increase the amount of sauce slightly if you need to make this recipe ahead of time.

STORING MAC AND CHEESE
Any leftovers need to be refrigerated and covered tightly. Mac and cheese can be stored this way for 3-4 days.

To reheat, stir in a little bit of milk or cream and microwave partially covered with plastic wrap. Stir often as it reheats.

FIVE CHEESE VARIATIONS:
Replace cheese amounts with the following:
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup Colby cheese, shredded
1 cup Muenster cheese, shredded
1 1/2 cups Gruyere cheese, shredded
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

Ingredients:

▢ 1 lb. dried elbow pasta

▢ 1/2 cup unsalted butter

▢ 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

▢ 1 1/2 cups whole milk

▢ 2 1/2 cups half and half

▢ 4 cups shredded medium sharp cheddar cheese divided (measured after shredding)

▢ 2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese divided (measured after shredding)

▢ 1/2 Tbsp. salt

▢ 1/2 tsp. black pepper

▢ 1/4 tsp. paprika

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and grease a 3 qt baking dish (9×13″). Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When boiling, add dried pasta and cook 1 minute less than the package directs for al dente. Drain and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil to keep it from sticking.
While water is coming up to a boil, shred cheeses and toss them together to mix, then divide into three piles. Approximately 3 cups for the sauce, 1 1/2 cups for the inner layer, and 1 1/2 cups for the topping.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over MED heat. Sprinkle in flour and whisk to combine. The mixture will look like very wet sand. Cook for approximately 1 minute, whisking often. Slowly pour in about 2 cups or so of the milk/half and half, while whisking constantly, until smooth. Slowly pour in the remaining milk/half and half, while whisking constantly, until combined and smooth.

Continue to heat over MED heat, whisking very often, until thickened to a very thick consistency. It should almost be the consistency of a semi-thinned-out condensed soup.

Remove from the heat and stir in spices and 1 1/2 cups of the cheeses, stirring to melt and combine. Stir in another 1 1/2 cups of cheese, and stir until completely melted and smooth.

In a large mixing bowl, combine drained pasta with cheese sauce, stirring to combine fully. Pour half of the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish. Top with 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese, then top that with the remaining pasta mixture.

Sprinkle the top with the last 1 1/2 cups of cheese and bake for 15 minutes, until cheesy is bubbly and lightly golden brown.

Ingredients:

▢ 1 lb. dried elbow pasta

▢ 1/2 cup unsalted butter

▢ 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

▢ 1 1/2 cups whole milk

▢ 2 1/2 cups half and half

▢ 4 cups shredded medium sharp cheddar cheese divided (measured after shredding)

▢ 2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese divided (measured after shredding)

▢ 1/2 Tbsp. salt

▢ 1/2 tsp. black pepper

▢ 1/4 tsp. paprika

Nutrition Disclaimer
Glamalia is not a dietician or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is an estimate. If calorie count and other nutritional values are important to you, we recommend running the ingredients through whichever online nutritional calculator you prefer. Calories can vary quite a bit depending on which brands were used.

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